Guest Blogger: Sabrina Mesa
Talk about being at the right place at the right time. When the call/invitation came in I just happen to be sitting in the room. After several phone calls back and forth it was decided, Sabrina, you are going to Ecuador for a week. “What?! Really?!” Was all I could muster. Going to South America always feels like a step towards home. Both of my parents are from Chile, so the South American culture and people are near and dear to my heart. Thankfully I not only picked up the culture but also the language, which came in handy during my entire trip.
Mayesh had been invited to be part of a group of “Floral Opinion Leaders” chosen by Ramiro of Flowers for Kids to tour farms, attend the FlorEcuador Show and meet with government officials to discuss the ATPDEA and the importance of trying to add Roses to the GSP (more on that to come.) He chose people with diverse floral backgrounds; Ryan Freeman from FlowerChat, Kym Erickson from Soderberg’s Florist and the Minnesota State Florist Association, Katie Hendrick from SAF, “Mr. Cold Chain” Terry Johnson, Cathie Giuffrida who is the VP on the Connecticut Florist Association Board of Directors and Bill and Maggie Schodowski from Florist Buying Club. All of us are different but we have one major thing in common, we all live and breathe the floral industry. We Love Flowers! (If any of you are reading this please know that it was a honor to travel and learn with you all.)
A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.
The rose is not just a rose in the country of Ecuador. It is a symbol of national pride. From the moment one steps off the plane in Quito you see a large bouquet of roses greeting you at the migration sector. As long lines of people – both visitors and nationals – form, I looked in awe at the long stem large headed roses elegantly displayed in the lobby. This, of course, is just the tip of the iceberg of product to come during my visit to this diverse country. Roses are everywhere – from the roadside markets to the 4 star hotel, from the small family run restaurants to the fine dining restaurants like Pavarotti’s (where yes many pictures of the signer hang and his music fills the dining area.)
Picture Comment: Every night a single long stem rose graced my pillow along with a small chocolate. By the time I checked out I had quite a few open roses sitting in a cup.
Roses have so much meaning and emotion behind them when they are given in the states. They can mean the start of a new love or the remembrance of a love lost. According to the language of flowers, roses have specific meaning according to their color. Once used to convey messages in secret, the rose has become a very public display of adoration and affection. One could argue that roses are not practical because they, like all fresh cut flowers, eventually die – such a silly way of thinking. Roses are one of those luxury items we enjoy for the moment like a great chocolate truffle or a good coffee.
I have to admit that I had no idea what to expect on this trip to Ecuador. Would I see the Ecuador of The Flower Confidential by Amy Stewart? She painted such a bleak picture of working conditions and of all negative aspects of the cut flower industry. Will I see behind the curtains and find poor labor conditions, sickness due to pesticide use? No, I would find nothing bleak or disheartening. I found hope and care behind that large curtain, with beautiful roses at the heart of it all. That hope is given in the form of a living wage that allows for women to step out of the home and into the workplace. Workers are even given medical attention that includes preventative care. One of the farms (Greenrose) even offers women birth control at no cost if they so choose. Imagine all of the fighting here in the states about women and their rights and Ecuador is empowering women to makes choices for themselves and their wellbeing. Amazing and simply awe inspiring. Each farm I visited was more impressive than the next. They take everything into consideration including fun. Soccer fields, locker rooms, medical staff even job rotation. These farm owners do not just see workers; they see people whose needs surpass just the need for a wage. I saw owners address workers by name and a smile. Not a fake “I need to impress these people” smile but a genuine smile that said you do not just work for me but we work together and we need each other. Some workers stay at farms for over 10 years! That is what I call loyalty.
I know I cannot work on an empty stomach. My writing gets messy and my whole attitude changes when I have not had my breakfast or lunch. That is just me in a home office setting. I cannot imagine being a worker on one of these farms who was hungry. The work is hard and the hours long. People need all types of fuel to function and Rosaprima knocked my socks off when they accidently served us what their workers ate that very day. Freshly made French fries, steamed vegetables, fresh tomato and a chicken breast that has been flattened and cooked over a stove top with a great mix of subtle spices. Sounds like a great meal right? It was delicious and full of nutrition and more importantly it was full of flavor. They had forgotten to organize a meal for us and offered the workers meal in replacement of a special catered lunch. I know that I would have not had known the difference. These small details made a huge difference forming my opinion on Ecuador and their floricultural industry.
Roses make us feel good when we receive them but a rose in Ecuador puts food on a family’s table, provides healthcare, an education for children and sustainability for entire communities. Roses are the heart and pride of Ecuador. I am ever changed by my trip and I cannot wait to share even more of my experience with you all.
Stay tuned…this story is just beginning.